Ecclesiastical and political pragmatism, with a beat
Terrible, terrible tragedy. Makes much of what we are grappling here in the U.S. in our daily lives and in the public square seem small in comparison. . . .
There is the story of Teresa of Avila who travelled throughout Spain establishing reformed Carmelite monasteries. On one such trip, Teresa was caught in a storm so intense that it knocked her off her donkey and threw her into a mud hole. Just by chance, she then and there had one of her visions of Jesus. Not amused, Teresa rebuked the Lord, who responded that that was how he treated His friends. Teresa responded, "that is why you have so few."
About ten years ago, after I'd preached a student sermon about Catherine of Siena, my dean at seminary cautioned the congregation about idealizing the visions of persecuted and perhaps mentally ill medieval women. I've thought about that a lot. And yet while I don't think God purposely harasses his most faithful servants, I sometimes wonder how much he actually accomplishes through those who live well-balanced lives that are comparatively free from suffering and adversity.
I don't put much store in mystical visions or voices. But I love an exchange from Joan of Arc's trial. The "judges" asked her whether the voices she claimed to hear were simply God and the saints speaking to her in her imagination. She responded, in effect, that, yes, of course, how else would they reach her.Teresa of Avila is an interesting case of practicality and mysticism. She was invited to be the guest of honor at a feast only to be criticised by one of the guests for enjoying herself too much. She noted famously "that "there is a time for penance and there is a time for pheasant".Perhaps the simplicity at the end of all mystical complexity was summarized by Therese of Lisieux (d. 1873), who observed that "I prefer the monotony of sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul".
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